Western Sufism

Western Sufism

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Dervishes in Dickens and Bérault-Bercastel

Two further eighteenth- and nineteenth-century European references to Sufis again show how familiar the reading public was with Mevlevi turning. In his Histoire générale de l'Église (1778-90), the French historian Antoine-Henri de Bérault-Bercastel discusses the “Convulsionnaires” (Convulsionists), a controversial eighteenth-century religious movement that emphasized direct religious experience. He describes some Convulsionnaires as standing on their heads while others “turned rapidly on their feet like dervishes” (1840 edition, vol. 10, pp. 418-19). The same comparison is made by Charles Dickens in A Tale of Two Cities (1859) when Dickens refers to the Convulsionists while ridiculing pre-revolutionary French society (p. 134). Dickens, however, does not mention turning, which makes the logic of the comparison hard to follow.

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